The field goal was from 50 yards out and Fresno State kicker Jimmy Camacho nailed it. He got a perfect snap from Jacob Westberry, a perfect hold from Blake Cusick and let it fly.
The ball shot off his right foot, the trajectory perfect and the flight of the ball straight and true.
It cleared the crossbar with a few yards to spare, effectively clinching a 27-10 victory for the Bulldogs at San Jose State back in October, a two-score game becoming a three-score game just past midway in the fourth quarter.
It was a clutch kick and once through, Camacho turned toward the Bulldogs’ sideline and tapped his right fingers against the inside of his left elbow.
It is a gesture started on a basketball court, but moved to the football field.
Ice water in the veins.
Camacho smiled, recalling the kick and the fete to follow.
“I like to have fun out there,” he said.
There was nothing more to it, though that kick at that distance in that situation with that result all could be markers on a return to normal for a kicker coming back from cancer.
That is Camacho, the longest shot in a senior class that on Saturday will play its final game at Bulldog Stadium.
Whether recruited in 2013, ’14 or 2015 like Camacho, they all came into a program as it clung to past successes, cratered through 3-9 and 1-11 seasons, and now against all odds has secured a spot in the Mountain West Conference championship game and a bowl game in December.
Growing up, Camacho was fueled by soccer, not football. It was his passion and he was good, one of the top goalkeepers in the nation in his age group. In 2012, he won the Allstate Good Hands award as the top goalkeeper at a national MLS competition. He spent time in MLS academies and soccer academies in Mexico with an eye toward playing professionally.
Camacho had an offer to play for Xolos in Tijuana when he was 17 but set that aside when his father, Sergio, was diagnosed with lymphoma.
“It was a hard time, but I told my wife, ‘You know what, I’m going to do everything I can to survive,’ ” Sergio Camacho said. “This is going to be the biggest fight of my life and I’m ready to fight and I got the chemotherapy, five months of chemotherapy and radiation. I lost my hair, lost everything. I had to quit work.
“Jimmy was ready to quit school and told me, ‘Dad, I have to delay my education so I can help you’ and I just told him, ‘You don’t have to do that.’ I believe in the Lord. I believe the Lord is on our side and we’re going to get through this and we’re going to be stronger on the other side.”
I didn't care if I was blue in the face, I was going to go out and compete.
Fresno State kicker Jimmy Camacho
While his father battled lymphoma, Camacho enrolled at Riverside City College, went out for the football team and became a JC All-American.
Sergio Camacho would watch him practice in the mornings and go to his games, wearing a mask to guard against infection.
“He went through four rounds of chemo, four or five months,” the younger Camacho said. “He would go once a week and they would put him up to the machines and he lost a lot of weight and lost his hair and he would still come out and watch me kick.”
But when the lymphoma went into remission, the Camachos – Sergio, his wife Rosa, his eldest son Sergio, Jimmy and daughter Jacqueline – were not in the clear.
“If you had asked me as a dad what’s going to happen in my life in the future, I would never have thought I’d have cancer,” Sergio Camacho said.
Me and my dad, the only thing we asked the doctor is, ‘Can I play?’ He was like, ‘Well, I don’t know if you’re going to live.’
Fresno State kicker Jimmy Camacho
“I believe the Lord made me fight because two or three years later Jimmy was going to have the same problem and maybe God saved me so I could be the support for my boy to do it.”
After his freshman season at Riverside City College, Camacho went through the recruiting process, signed a letter of intent with Fresno State, went about life.
In January 2015 he was not feeling quite right and saw a doctor, but was told everything was fine. Months passed, but the symptoms didn’t go away, so with an insurance plan obtained through Obamacare, Camacho went to another doctor. “He was like, ‘There’s really no way for me to tell you what’s wrong with you unless we perform surgery and we do a biopsy,’ ” Camacho said.
The 50-yard field goal by Camacho against San Jose State was the first for the Bulldogs of 50 or more yards since Kevin Goessling scored from 52 yards out against Illinois in 2010.
“I had a Stage 2 seminoma, which is a germ cell tumor. I had three germ cell tumors along my main artery and by the time I got the test results back, the ultrasound and the CT scan, it was mid-June. I got a call from my doctor and he says, ‘We have bad news. You have three inflamed lymph nodes at an abnormal size and we have to start discussing options on how we’re going to approach this.’ Me and my dad, the only thing we asked the doctor is, ‘Can I play?’ He was like, ‘Well, I don’t know if you’re going to live.’ ”
Sergio Camacho: “I remember the day that we were in the doctor’s office and he told us that he might have some type of cancer. We were crying in the doctor’s office. Jimmy, my wife and I. It was his dream to play for Fresno State and we thought that it was going to be over.”
Camacho started radiation treatments, which sapped his strength, his stamina.
“I felt some really weird side effects,” he said. “Certain memories from that time in my life still make me nauseous. It does a lot to your psyche in that regard.”
By that time, many of the Bulldogs in that 2015 recruiting class had arrived on campus for summer session and to go through team workouts and player-run practices.
Camacho did not arrive until mid-July, just a few weeks before fall camp. He had lost a lot of weight, a lot of strength, but he tried to jump right in.
Fresno State kicker Jimmy Camacho is leading the Mountain West Conference with 19 field goals.
“I didn’t care if I was blue in the face, I was going to go out and compete,” he said.
“He was going to every workout and just trying to fight through it,” said former Bulldogs’ coach Tim DeRuyter, who is now the defensive coordinator at Cal. “I think it gave him something to continue to fight. Even though he was trying to fight the cancer, it gave him something to take his mind off of that and something to look forward to.”
His teammates at that time did not know what he was going through, though it was obvious that something was not right.
“There were days that I would go out and condition, and I would come in and just throw up,” Camacho said.
“All I wanted to do was sleep. You’re always really tired. You’re always really nauseous.”
He told his teammates, finally, in a meeting before camp.
“Jimmy just said, ‘Hey, this is what has been going on, and I just wanted to let you guys know and explain why I’m feeling the way I’m feeling during the workouts and at practice,’ ” said Garrett Swanson, who was the starting punter on that team.
“That was nice for him to not only tell us, but trust us with that information, and he got a good reaction and good support from a lot of people, to understand what he was going through at the time because, I mean, only he knows. I can only imagine how tough it must be. He got good backing from the team there. He trusted us and we trusted him.”
Swanson, who grew up about a mile from Camacho in Riverside where they went to rival high schools, said he was shocked to learn of the cancer.
He didn't want to advertise it. He wanted to go fight it.
Former Fresno State coach Tim DeRuyter
“At first, it was like, ‘Wow, that’s crazy,’ ” he said. “For me, he was one of the first people in my life that I’ve been in touch with that has had cancer. I’d never been a part of a scenario like that.”
The Bulldogs kept it in house, rallied around their teammate.
“He didn’t want to advertise it, he just wanted to go fight it,” DeRuyter said.
Camacho, he just kept competing.
“It says a lot about him,” Swanson said. “In the summer we would kick on only so many days during the week, trying not to over-kick. I can remember constantly trying to tell Jimmy, ‘It’s not good to kick every single day. You’re going to wear out your leg.’
“But there were times where we wouldn’t kick that day, and he’d still be out there kicking. He was always trying to fight, always trying to get better.”
Slowly, he did.
A new spring, a new opportunity
The strength in his leg improved over time, and with it the power to drive through the football.
“I came into camp and if I’m honest with myself, I was awful,” Camacho said. “It was obvious to my teammates, but they knew what I was going through. I spent a lot of time where I was not myself as a kicker and that took a toll on me.”
That first season, he attempted four field goals, made two. The next season, Camacho, Nick Van Valkenberg and Kody Kroening rotated through the kickoff team, and Kroening handled all of the place-kicking, hitting 15 of 17 field goal attempts.
Kroening entered this season on the watch list for the Lou Groza Award, but with a new coaching staff in place and every job on the team open, Camacho beat him out in fall camp and has handled all of the kicking duties.
“He earned it,” coach Jeff Tedford said. “He worked hard to get back and kept his head in there, didn’t get discouraged. I’m happy for him. He has really done a good job.”
Camacho is 19 of 23 on field goal attempts, the longest that 50-yarder at San Jose State. On kickoffs he has been able to consistently drive the ball into the end zone, negating any chance of a return. His touchback percentage is up from 30.0 last season to 52.3 this season, which is the highest in the Mountain West among kickers who do most of their work near sea level.
There were times where we wouldn’t kick that day, and he’d be out there kicking. He was always trying to fight, always trying to get better.
Former Fresno State punter Garrett Swanson
Going through treatment and rehab, Camacho said he followed Eric Berry, the Kansas City Chiefs’ safety who returned from a battle with lymphoma to again be selected to the Pro Bowl.
“There are not a lot of guys out there that have the mental strength to do that,” he said. “That guy is Superman.”
He’s also motivated to succeed because of the example set by his father.
“He was really my inspiration,” Camacho said. “My dad went through it a lot worse than I did. He to this day is still the provider for our family and still goes to work every day. He straps on his work boots and takes his lunch pail to work.
“My dad is someone I really admire because of his courage and how he handled that situation.”
Saturday, they will all be together on the field at Bulldog Stadium for a Senior Day celebration before taking on Boise State. But then the focus is back to football, which after the past five years for Camacho and his family is something to celebrate.
“This has definitely been a journey,” Camacho said. “But my brothers here on the team have really done a good job of picking me up and helping me get better.
“It wasn’t always easy and I’m not a guy that has been handed a lot of things in my life, and to just kind of be knocked down at a time I was seeing some success, right after I had gained a scholarship to come here and compete for a job, to be punched in the face by life at that time was difficult. But I think I’m better because of it.”
Robert Kuwada: @rkuwada
BOISE STATE AT FRESNO STATE
- Saturday: 12:30 p.m. at Bulldog Stadium (41,031)
- Records: Bulldogs 8-3, 6-1 Mountain West; Broncos 9-2, 7-0
- TV/radio: CBSSN/KFIG (AM 940), KGST (AM 1600)
- Of note: The Broncos have won seven in a row after beating Air Force on Saturday 44-19. Over the past four games, they are averaging 46.3 points per game. Brett Rypien has thrown for 12 TDs and just one interception in that stretch. … Boise State has 14 seniors and that group is the 15th in 16 years to win 40 or more career games. With a victory, the Broncos also would go undefeated in conference play for the first time since 2009 when it was in the WAC. … The Broncos were No. 23 in the College Football Playoff rankings this week, part of the reason they have a large lead on the Bulldogs in determining the host for the Dec. 2 conference final. Even a head-to-head win might not be enough to get Fresno State a home game – the host is determined by teams’ standing in the CFP or composite of four computer rankings.